Cuts of Beef and Grading

I am often asked what cut of beef is the best, which is almost an impossible question to answer. There are close to 44 commercial cuts that come from the 8 primal cuts of beef, all of which are amazing when cooked correctly.  

Steaks are easy, Ribeye is generally the most popular cut, followed by the New York Strip for both taste and tenderness.  The Filet, coveted by many is an extremely tender cut of meat, but it generally isn't as flavorful as it's next door neighbor, the New York Strip, while still attached to the Porterhouse or T-Bone depending on which end it is cut from the loin.  There are also a number of other less popular cuts that are just as amazing, such as flank steaks (amazing fajita/carne asada) and flat iron steaks.

When it comes to roasts, it really depends on what the end product will be in order to determine which cut to select.  For most "pot roasts" any cut from the Chuck or Round will do nicely braised in your favorite liquid or roasted in the oven.

Then there are the "Other Roasts" I like to refer to these as meat butter.  I am talking about Rib Roasts, strip roasts, and Tenderloin Roasts.  These are the ones that are essentially the uncut version of our favorite steaks.  Rib Roasts are the uncut Ribeyes that are contained in Ribs 6 through 12 in the rib section. This is also commonly referred to as a Standing Rib Roast and Prime Rib.  PRIME RIB is not a reference to the "Grade" of beef, but to the Primal cut from the Rib.  You can buy Prime graded Rib roasts, but most of what you find in the grocery store will be Choice. The Tenderloin Roast and Strip Roast are cut from the Short loin.  The Tenderlion roast is famously known as Filet Mignon when cut into steaks, the Strip Roast can also be cut down into New York Strip steaks.

Brisket is a whole other category in my book... Low and slow, smoked....ultimate meat butter.....

So what does that USDA sticker really mean? Prime? Choice? Select? Is there a lower grade?

The USDA grading program is designed to provide a guide to understanding the quality (based on marbling and maturity) of beef.  It is a very scientific process that evaluates no only the meat but hte skeletal condition to determine maturity.  Prime is the high end of the scale with abundant marbling from a  younger animal. Choice has moderate marbling, and Select has a small amount of marbling.

What is "Marbling"?  It is the small white intramuscular strands of fat the provide lubrication for the muscles and ultimately add to the taste and tenderness of the meat.

The majority of meat sold in supermarkets is Select, which isn't horrible, it just takes a little extra work to add some flavor, and cook it in a way that will ensure a tender enjoyable experience.  

You can find Prime graded beef at higher end stores and butcher shops, but you will pay $$$ for it.  

There are other labels that often do not refer to an USDA Grade, Wagyu and Kobe are labels that refer to a type of cow that is bred in Japan using a specific process for breeding and raising that ensures the ultimate cut of beef.  It is almost impossible to find true Kobe beef outside of Japan except for a few select restaurants in the US, so be wary of anyone claiming to serve it... Especially in a hamburger.... 

Diagrams are from the USDA site. 

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